4. Jacksonville Jaguars: 6-10
Bringing up the rear in the AFC South this year will be the Jacksonville Jaguars. The reason? A mediocre defense and the lack of good receivers.
Quarterback David Garrard has put up good stats in the last two years, but it doesn't make his job easy when his No. 1 and 2 receivers are Troy Williamson and an ancient Tory Holt.
The loss of both Matt Jones and Reggie Williams at wide receiver has taken—and will continue to take—a toll on this offense. DUIs and drug possessions led the Jags to part ways with Williams and Jones, who looked to be the future of this team at wide out.
The offensive line beefed up with the addition of Eugene Monroe at left tackle, and I think he's going to make Maurice Jones-Drew better.
This defense isn't horrible, but they haven't found that Marcus Stroud-type player to be the leader since his departure before last season. The Jaguars now have Mel Tucker at the helm of their defense, and he had some success as a DB coach and defensive coordinator with Cleveland.
When all is said and done, the Jaguars are an average football team at best. I expect them to compete in some games this year, but everyone else in the AFC South will be on a different level.
3. Indianapolis Colts: 10-6
Peyton Manning is still an elite quarterback, and he will continue to be one for at least two or three more years. Unfortunately, with the exits of both Tony Dungy and Marvin Harrison, the Colts aren't going to be the same dominant team we've seen for years. They'll still be good, though.
Jim Caldwell takes over as head coach, and he has extremely big shoes to fill. Dungy was one of—if not the—best coaches in the NFL. But looking at Caldwell, he's been in the Colts system for seven years as a quarterbacks coach and an assistant head coach.
Caldwell has worked with Manning for all of those years, which makes me think that Manning trusts this guy to run the Colts.
Reggie Wayne has to pick up some of the slack left by Marvin Harrison, but last season he looked like the No. 1 receiver the Colts need. Wayne compiled over a thousand yards with six touchdowns.
The offense will also rely on Joseph Addai, who needs to bounce back from a season where he missed a few games and didn't play that great. If he doesn't, rookie Donald Brown is waiting.
Indy will have to start the season without defensive playmaker Bob Sanders, although he's not expected to miss more than five games.
I imagine the Colts can maintain a solid defense in 2009, but division rivals Tennessee and Houston have some pretty efficient offenses. It's going to be a close race, but I have a feeling that Indianapolis' window of dominance might be nearing an end.
2. Houston Texans: 10-6
A lot of people have the Texans pegged as a sleeper, but I don't think that exactly, because they've been on the cusp of success for the past two seasons.
Back-to-back 8-8 records makes me think that Gary Kubiak has this Houston team in good shape to have their first winning record ever.
The pieces of the puzzle seem to be falling into place for the future. Running back Steve Slaton is a stud—we all know this. Quarterback Matt Schaub had a 92.7 percent passer rating in '08 to go along with 3,000-plus yards.
Over half of those yards went to No. 1 receiver Andre Johnson, who had over 1,500 receiving yards and eight touchdowns last year.
This will be the year that Slaton, Johnson, and Schaub all gel perfectly on offense.
Don't forget about Mario Williams and the Texans' defense. It's still hard to talk down the decision to draft Williams at No. 1, seeing as he's been one of the most successful players from the 2006 draft class.
DeMeco Ryans and 15th overall pick Brian Cushing will lead the linebackers, making the Texans defense look pretty intimidating.
The Texans are no longer the little brother franchise. They're headed for 10 wins and a wildcard spot.
1. Tennessee Titans: 11-5
Last year's sleeper team, the Titans aren't surprising anyone in 2009. They're for real.
Kerry Collins had one of his best years in 2008, but he's old and prone to injury. His health is going to be important for the Titans, but not vital. Let's not forget that Tennessee probably has the most talented backup quarterback in the NFL in Vince Young, who will probably take over for Collins next year.
The gap that Albert Haynesworth has left isn't going to be easy to fill, but Tennessee's defense shouldn't have too tough of a time. The majority of the defense is returning from 2008, which should make the Titans close to a top 10 defensive team again.
With a linemen corps led by Keith Bulluck and a secondary featuring Michael Griffin at safety and corner back Cortland Finnegan, I don't think Tennessee is going to have much trouble containing most offenses.
The Titans have an explosive young running back in Chris Johnson, and LenDale White, who was good on the goal line in 2008. I also look for wide receiver Justin Gage to have a big year, as he's now going to be either the first or second option for Collins.
This team has most of the same players as the one that won 12 games last year. I'll say 11 wins is the magic number for Tennessee to get back-to-back division titles.
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